Alan Reid, Jamie McGrigor and the righting of a serious wrong

On 2nd June 1994, an RAF Chinook Mk2 helicopter, ZD 576, crashed into the hillside near Argyll’s Mull of Kintyre Lighthouse, in heavy fog, at speed and at low altitude.

It was carrying 25 of the leading intelligence experts in the UK – from MI5, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Army – from Belfast in Northern Ireland to a conference in Fort George, east of Inverness, on the Moray Firth.

29 lives were lost – all the passengers and the four-strong crew. Given the situation in Northern Ireland at the time the understandable early public suspicion was terrorist activity.

The 1995 RAF Board of Inquiry  into the incident found it impossible to establish the exact cause of the crash. It suggested that the wrong rate of climb might have been a factor; and it did not rule out technical malfunction.

Then a review of this finding was ordered later in that year, 1995, by the RAF and carried out by two reviewing officers, superannuated Air Marshals – Sir William Wratten and Sir John Day.

This pair concluded – on no evidence but on assumption which later proved to be highly convenient, that the pilots, Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper and Rick Cook, were responsible for the incident and had been ‘negligent to a gross degree’. Wratten and Day simply found that Tapper and Cook were flying too fast and too low in heavy fog. No queries were raised as to why two experienced pilots, carrying such a cargo, would do anything so terminally stupid.

The Wratten/Day conclusion was unprecedented in military protocol. When the cause of a fatal accident cannot be demonstrated beyond doubt – and this could not, tradition dictated that military personnel who had perished should never be blamed, since this would damage their posthumous reputations where they could have no ability to defend themselves.

This inexplicable finding brought public outrage . It also caused anger within the ranks of the RAF, seeing fellow officers, who were then dead, defamed in this way.

It added indefensible abuse to the pain of loss suffered by the families of the two dead pilots – families who fought from that date with dogged determination to clear the names of their sons; and Jonathan Tapper’s father had been an RAF officer himself.

In 1996 a Fatal Accident Inquiry was unable to find a conclusive cause of the crash; and simply recommended the  installation of cockpit voice and accident data recorders on military aircraft.

Four years after the incident, in 1998, the Commons Defence Committee declared that the helicopter involved in the crash was not suffering from ‘fundamental flaws’. It made no judgment, however, on the immediate cause of the crash.

The House of Commons had a group of cross-party MPs – the Mull of Kintyre Campaign Group  – which survived across several parliaments, dedicated to clearing the names of Tapper and Cook. Argyll and Bute’s then Liberal Democrat MP, Ray Michie, whose constituency here – Argyll –  was tarred by association, was one of them.

Information leaked to the public domain

Information trickled into the public domain over this prolonged period, much of it of substantial concern and  almost always the cause of renewed appeals for an inquiry – requests serially rejected.

It became known that Flight Lieutenant Richard Cook, for one, had not wanted to fly that aircraft on that mission – but had no option other than to do as he and his colleague Jonathan Tapper were ordered to do.

It was suggested that there were known faults with the aircraft and that this was the reason for the pilot’s preference to fly the older Mk1 Chinook that day.

The problem was identified as centering on software-driven FADEC system [Fully Automated Digital Engine Control], with which the Chinook Mk2 had been fitted.

It became known that this system, which automatically controlled the flow of fuel to the engines, had no manual override for the pilots to use in the case of a malfunction – neither on the top level controls nor the back up system.

FADEC was already  known to have caused multiple crashes and serious concern in creating sudden uncontrollable engine accelerations. It is quite conceivable that it was one of these surges that tore ZD 576 i9nto the Kintyre hillside as it began its climb.

None of these germane issues were considered adequate to the instigation of a full inquiry; although a parliamentary inquiry in 2001 found the verdict of gross negligence on the part of the pilots to be ‘unjustified’.

That was already seven years after the fatal crash. It was to be a further ten years – a total of seventeen – before justice wold be done.

Research here at For Argyll –  in which we received inestimably valuable assistance in rather mysterious circumstances [detailed below] – produced an authoritative account of the realities behind these leaks. An article we published here [Kintyre Chinook crash issue even more serious: Fox to report to parliament on Philip report on Wednesday] carries a summary that is still shocking today – but is required reading.

Political failures

in 2002, Tony Blair promised to ‘look personally’ at the findings but made it clear that he would not reopen the inquiry.

In November 2000, a Commons’ Public Accounts Committee report contradicted the original inquiry findings, concluding that there had been repeated problems with the aircraft and the pilots should be cleared of blame.
It found the RAF’s procurement of the FADEC software for the Chinook Mk2 to have been flawed.I t also reported that ‘faults with the FADEC led to doubts as to the reliability and safety of the aircraft at the time and make it very difficult to rule out categorically a technical fault as at least a contributory cause of ZD-576’s crash’.

The Blair government simply declared the Public Accounts Committee report to be ‘superficial’.

With continuing public and parliamentary pressure arising from the patently obvious injustice of the situation, in 2001 the House of Lords voted for an all-party inquiry into the crash. The Blair government gave in.

The inquiry that followed, in 2002 and headed by Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle, cleared the pilots of blame for the crash; and 170 MPs signed an Early Day Motion to overturn the findings of the original report and officially clear the names of the pilots.

Geoff Hoon, then Labour Defence Secretary told the Commons that the Government continued to hold the pilots responsible – to rightly renewed outrage from the families and from the public.

In 2007, presented with a dossier of evidence from campaigners, Labour Defence Secretary, Des Browne, agreed to review the case.

Browne was replaced as Defence Secretary by the ultimate political pragmatist, the ever-flexible John Hutton, a much safer pair of hands for the MoD. Hutton immediately demonstrated his value in saying, in 2008, that no new evidence had been uncovered and that the findings against the pilots would stand.

The new evidence

Hutton’s were famous last words. These – and his arrogant complacency in the face of clear cause for concern about the validity of the finding against the pilots – may have been the straw that broke the reticence of many senior figures in the RAF.

Computer Weekly – a game-changing contributor to the case through its very heavy lifting in research on the FADEC software and the FoI’s it lodged with the MoD – published, by name,  the unarguably qualified views of Retired Air Commodore Derek Hine. Hine was a fast jet pilot and a senior officer who had helped write the rules for RAF accident inquiries.

In an interview with Computer Weekly, the first time he had spoken, Hine made it public that there was too much evidence of software problems [with the FADEC system] on the Chinook Mk2 type which crashed to give him confidence that that the pilots were inconclusively responsible for the crash.

It was Hine’s rule for RAF FAIs ,written in 1982, that dead aircrew should be found negligent only if there is ‘absolutely no doubt whatsoever’ – an issue which he found that Wratten and Day did not even consider.

Tellingly, Hine said that on the day before the Kintyre crash, flying trials on the Chinook Mk2 were suspended at Boscombe Down, the RAF’s research and test establishment – largely on account of the unreliability of the critical engine control software.

Expert interrogation of the FADEC software found that the number of its anomalies ran into many hundreds, rendering it unintelligible.

Computer Weekly’s FoIs revealed:

  • serious concerns had been expressed at Boscome Down that the FADEC software on board on the aircraft was ‘positively dangerous’;
  • on the day of the crash, the RAF – aware of this situation for the previous nine months – had been officially informed that the Chinook was not fit for service, should be grounded and should not be given a CAR certificate – but had gone ahead and flown the aircraft regardless.

For Argyll, anonymous helpers, political intervention and the big result

 

For Argyll campaigned persistently on this case, publishing a series of articles over time that attracted considerable attention.

These brought us to the attention of some senior expert figures in the defence world whose nature we cannot disclose and whose specific identities we never got to know. These sources were enraged by the RAF’s willingness to sacrifice the posthumous reputations of the pilots to protect themselves from the public knowledge of their own fully criminal irresponsibility in ordering the use of the Chinook Mk2 that day in June 1994.

The guidance these people gave us – as an conduit – was detailed, evidenced, comprehensive and damning. We had a mysterious and remote relationship of absolute trust and we at For Argyll quickly came to respect their forensic intelligence and their fundamental care for right and for justice.

The research which they directed us to do outlined and filled in a picture of the most serious possible concern – a picture we progressively published.

Armed with this information and evidence, we lobbied politicians we felt would be likely to want to help and would work to get some governmental traction in bringing this matter to a just conclusion.

During Gordon Brown’s leadership, with the utter failure of the Blair administration to do anything, we gave Alan Reid the links to the information we had published and asked him to approach the government, as the MP responsible for the area that had unintentionally hosted the disaster.

Mr Reid made several requests to the Prime Minister and Mr Brown, to his shame, serially refused to intervene. So much for the claim of having a moral compass.

The Brown administration then entered the run-up to the 2010 General Election. For Argyll lobbied Alan Reid again and Jamie McGrigor, Highland and Islands Conservative MSP, to ask their respective parties for an assurance that, if in government after the election, they would empower the necessary formal action to see the pilots reprieved.

In May 2010, a Conservative-Liberal government came to office. For Argyll quickly reminded Mr Reid and Mr McGrigor. who had energetically helped us, of the assurances their parties had given prior to the election. They made their approaches and the first Defence Secretary of that administration, Dr Liam Fox, took action at once.

This was a commitment that delivered as promised. Dr Fox resisted the familiar efforts of the MoD to obstruct and circumvent him, as they had done with his predecessors. He appointed the retired Scottish judge, Lord Philip, to conduct a review of the total evidence now available on the case.

Lord Philip and his cross-party high level team got down to work. A year later, Lord Philip reported.

The reality, described in our article, linked above and published on 11th July 2011 as the Defence Secretary prepared to report on the Philip findings to the House of Commons, was even more damning than anyone had imagined.

The Philip Review, as with the 2009 Haddon-Cave Report into the 2006 loss of the RAF Nimrod MR2 XV230 i Afghanistan [and cover-up] – is accepted as an exemplary review of evidence and straightforwardly fearless finding.

On 13th July 2011, Dr Fox unequivocally cleared the names of the two pilots, so dreadfully wronged – and apologised publicly to their families.

Alan Reid MP and Jamie McGrigor MP got their parties to make an pre-election commitment to carrying out an independent review of this case. Had it not been for their determined and successful efforts, the reputations of Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper and Rick Cook would still be officially tarred with gross negligence in causing the deaths of 29 people, including themselves. The distress of their families at this certain wrong would still be unsalved.

Dr Liam Fox will be remembered as the only Defence Secretary who put right values first in this case, who took action and who saw it through.

The public service of both Alan Reid and Jamie McGrigor  – assiduously carried out in the case of both men – is graced by the fact that they made it possible for this scarring wrong to be put right.

This was also a stain on Argyll, as the helpless locus for the disaster. People across this place felt a personal relief when the truth was confirmed, sharing with the families of the pilots the lifting of a seventeen year shadow associated with a clear injustice.

The reality was that the RAF and the MoD consciously chose to smear the reputations of two serving officers no longer alive to defend against the allegations.

They did this – and insisted upon it for seventeen years – to protect themselves from the consequences of their criminal culpability and lack of professional care, both of the highest order – leading to the deaths of 29 people, 25 of them together representing the best of the intelligence capability in the UK at that time.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • And so the MOD and the RAF sought to smear the reputation of serving officers no longer alive.

    Doesn’t say much about the integrity of the UK military.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 10

    Willie. April 26, 2015 9:33 pm Reply
    • We hold no brief for the MoD.
      They told us a direct lie on an occasion [MACC’s community buy out of the former RAF base at Machrihanish] when we had documented evidence to the contrary to hand – from documents of their own we had got under FoI. When we quoted this, they simply went silent and hung up.
      And that’s before we look at their sending soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan, known to be wholly ineffectively kitted out.
      And that’s before we look at their incompetent, inadequate and extravagant procurement record – including the Nimrod AWACS replacement mess.
      Then there is Police Scotland’s damaging record here – arming wthout notification to government and stopping and searching children when this practice was alleged to have stopped – shaming the Scottish Government.
      Perhaps there are certain types of power that inevitably corrupt, wherever they are?
      It is juvenile to attempt to make this very different issue into part of a convenient binary opposition of a squeaky clean culture of a would-be indy Scotland versus an unrelievedly nasty dirty UK culture – from which the virgin Scotland coincidentally wishes to create apparent reasons to separate.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

      newsroom April 26, 2015 10:01 pm Reply
    • Willie, stolen your post but with one word altered.
      Hope you don’t mind.

      And so the MOD and the RAF sought to smear the reputation of serving officers no longer alive.

      Doesn’t say much about the integrity of the UK “establishment”.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 8

      keitho April 26, 2015 10:51 pm Reply
  • “For Argyll campaigned persistently on this case, publishing a series of articles over time that attracted considerable attention.
    These brought us to the attention of some senior expert figures in the defence world whose nature we cannot disclose and whose specific identities we never got to know. These sources were enraged by the RAF’s willingness to sacrifice the posthumous reputations of the pilots to protect themselves from the public knowledge of their own fully criminal irresponsibility in ordering the use of the Chinook Mk2 that day in June 1994.
    The guidance these people gave us – as an conduit – was detailed, evidenced, comprehensive and damning. We had a mysterious and remote relationship of absolute trust and we at For Argyll quickly came to respect their forensic intelligence and their fundamental care for right and for justice.
    The research which they directed us to do outlined and filled in a picture of the most serious possible concern – a picture we progressively published.
    Armed with this information and evidence, we lobbied politicians we felt would be likely to want to help and would work to get some governmental traction in bringing this matter to a just conclusion.”………….
    Well it was ForArgyll what done it – Bejezus – to hold you tongue and keep your own council for so long is laudable. An here’s me thinking ForArgyll was some two bit blog on the edge of Loch Fyne when all the time we had a fine upstanding investigative journo in our midst – yes, well whatever you say.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 9

    Notinmyname April 26, 2015 10:07 pm Reply
    • Don’t be silly.
      We simply did our bit, as best and as resourcefully as we were able.
      Some highly knowledgeable and angry people clearly thought we were a worthy contributor to the campaign and gave us help – which allowed us to be a much more effective component of a very wide ranging campaign than we would otherwise have been.
      In effect, what they did brought the heart of the actual evidence home to a source emanating from Argyll, where a specific audience would pay attention to it.
      We feel – but cannot know – that these people were the effective heart of the entire campaign and judiciously managed it; and that we were picked up as a strategically useful element.
      But whatever anyone does, it takes politicians and governments to be willing to listen – and, cruciallly, to act.
      We asked politicians relevant to Argyll – Alan Reid And Jamie McGrigor- to get pre-election assurances from their parties that if they were in power they would commit to getting the evidence in the open and the dead pilots’ names cleared. The pre-election period is always the best time for this sort of pressure.
      They got those assurances – and we published at the time that they had been given.
      And Liam Fox delivered for right as well as for justice for Jonathan Tapper and Rick Cook – a month or so over 17 years after they died.
      The standard bearers are those shadowy champions of right somewhere in the defence sector whose persistent campaign support over so long a period of time eventually succeeded,
      Everyone else, at whatever level, was a committed bit player. It is to this group of people that the families of the pilots owe so much of the relief of an unequivocal reprieve for their innocent lost sons.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

      newsroom April 27, 2015 9:36 am Reply
  • Wratten and Day were interviewed on BBC Newsnight by Paxman – who treated them in the style he reserved for people he didn’t believe.
    They came back at him fighting, and one of them out-attacked the attack-dog. I remember this, because I can’t recollect any other time seeing Paxman reduced to silence
    Their snarling arrogance was staggering.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

    Robert Wakeham April 26, 2015 10:32 pm Reply
  • What was so critical about the flight that it had to fly through fog at low altitude?
    An ex military officer once told me it was on a golf outing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    Murdoch MacKenzie April 27, 2015 6:12 am Reply
    • There was even a theory, at the time, that – given the importance of the passengers – the helicopter might have been flying in the ‘radar shadow’ of the Mull of Kintyre because of suspicions of possible terrorist access to flight radar data.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

      Robert Wakeham April 27, 2015 7:47 am Reply
    • It didn’t have to fly through fog at low altitude. It had to get to Fort George and was online for there.
      The navigational controls of the Mk2 Chinook were also known to be unreliable.
      The likelihood is that the pilots were starting the climb to clear the south west of the Mull of Kintyre when FADEC did what FADEC had done on several previous occasions and threw the engine into sudden uncontrollable speed. With no manual override on main or back up systems – that was it for all 29 on board.
      Remember that the pilots had not wanted to fly this aircraft. They did not trust it. The helicopter was seen heading over to the Mull by a yacht before it reached the coastal fog – and was flying normally and at normal speed.
      It is inconceivable that two experienced pilots would deliberately accelerate once they were within heavy fog – and to the speed the aircraft must been flying at when it crashed. The debris told that story in a general sense, for lack of any flight data recorders.
      The ‘game of golf’ story is improbable as these people were from a range of different forces and would not have been likely co-socialisers. It is logical that they were together for an intelligence conference at Fort George; while it is not logical that the MoD flew them there all together in a single aircraft.
      This crash wiped out a major swathe of the UK”s top military and police intelligence service at a time of internal war.
      Even if the ‘game of golf’ yarn were correct, does it mean they deserved to die? What is the point of it?
      The issue is the crash, the cause of the crash and the meticulous assembly and analysis of evidence by civilians over a period of years – by default – in the face of the RAF’s and the MoD’s self-interested determination to keep it cloaked and let the dead pilots take the blame.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

      newsroom April 27, 2015 9:23 am Reply
    • The “golf outing” has a simple explanation. There was an element of “rest and recreation” to the trip, in the same way troops are withdrawn from the front line. These people were targets. It was an annual affair.

      What is more suspicious and merits deeper investigation is the 1997 claim by the Chief of the Air Staff in a letter to Marshall of the Air Force Sir John Grandy that the aircraft was “off course by some miles”. Graydon has never been asked to explain this claim which, if even remotely true, taints every subsequent inquiry. To be some miles off course after such a short time implies the true course was somewhere east of Arran or west of Islay; neither recognised routes to Fort George.

      At the time there were many rumuors, and few were proven correct. But this isn’t a rumour, it’s a written statement by the head of the RAF. So why has the author not been asked to account for it?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      David Hill June 7, 2015 5:01 am Reply
  • Too true Newsroom. The Ministry of Denial (MoD)has and continues to employ these sort of tactics for many, many years. As in all organisations, there are some terrific people, some quite good, some reasonable and then some pathetic. It is this last group that consists of ‘jobs worth’s’ and those who aspire to greater things by climbing over others and claiming credit for others hard graft.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    Aral April 27, 2015 3:54 pm Reply
  • Tomorrow is the 21st anniversary of the accident. Bear with me and tomorrow I will post a link to the primary submission to the Philip Review.
    If I may first make a few brief points.
    1. There is no evidence FADEC caused the crash. What does exist is a statement that the safety critical software in FADEC was implemented in a “positively dangerous” manner. This was withheld from aircrew by the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, AVM Anthony Bagnall.
    2. Learned pilots consider the most likely cause to be an Undemanded Flight Control Movement. The evidence of the RAF’s senior Chinook test pilot stated that, on a number of occasions, at the end of a straight run (think Aldergrove to the Mull), he would try to turn one way and the aircraft would turn and dive the other way. On each occasion, altitude and experience saved him. MoD called him a liar. During the Review, a junior officer in MoD “inadvertently” released a paper dated February 1994 describing exactly this scenario, intended as a warning to pilots. It is termed a Special Flying Instruction. This, also, was withheld and the Philip Review was the first inquiry to see it. Shortly after the June 1994 crash, exactly the same thing happened again to another Aldergrove Chinook, but this time the pilot got away with it. Again, all this was withheld from inquiries by MoD.
    3. The status of the aircraft on 2nd June 1994 was that of a prototype. It did not have legal authority to fly. ACAS (above) had made a false declaration that the airworthiness regulations had been implemented properly, knowing they had not. Lord Philip fully accepted this, confirming it was “mandated” upon ACAS to accept and abide by the status advised by MoD’s Controller Aircraft (Sir Donald Spiers). What was that advice? The aircraft was not airworthy. The RAF were not allowed to fly it or rely upon it “in any way whatsoever”. In fact, it was only a single Chinook at MoD’s Boscombe Down testing establishment that was permitted to have FADEC installed. And that aircraft had been grounded on airworthiness grounds; as reported by For Argyll above.
    Amongst all the speculation, these are the hard, verifiable facts. It is time for a fully independent review. Lord Philip was constrained by terms of reference that asked him to look primarily at the legal test of gross negligence. Even then, he came up short because MoD lied to him – again revealed by For Argyll. He got close to the truth. Close enough to remove the stain on the pilots. But these senior staffs got away with it again. It is time for the Scottish Crown Office to re-open the Fatal Accident Inquiry on the grounds that the original one was tainted by MoD withholding evidence to conceal the illegal actions of various senior officers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    David Hill June 1, 2015 4:52 pm Reply
  • https://sites.google.com/site/militaryairworthiness/finance-docs
    You can view or download the submission to Lord Philip. (bottom of page).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    David Hill June 2, 2015 6:49 pm Reply

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